To the hunter pariahs who still religiously play marksmanship, all four of you, I salute your dedication to our forgotten specialization. You've kept the spark of hope alive in our hunter hearts. The hope that someday marksmanship will make its triumphant return to the top of the damage meters, just as it was in the armor penetration glory days of Icecrown Citadel.
Perhaps I'm being a teensy bit dramatic, but as a 8-year (soon to be 9-year) hunter, I do have a soft spot for marksmanship. That's why I was happy to hear about the recent hotfix to boost Chimera Shot's damage by a whopping 50%. I wondered if this was enough to make marksmanship competitive, so I decided to shun my traditional beast mastery and survival specs for a week to give marksmanship its fair chance.
Buffs ... buffs everywhere!
Don't get me wrong, marksmanship has been totally "viable" in Mists, but viable is a whole lot different than competitive. Sometimes I feel people confuse and interchange the two terms. The spec was never completely broken, it just has some odd quirks and could use some improvements. Blizzard has been dropping in little buffs and quality of life improvements to marksmanship all throughout Mists to try and help:
- Patch 5.1: Careful Aim was buffed to work down to 80% health (previously 90%), the duration of Steady Focus was increased to 20 seconds (previously 10), and Glyph of Aimed Shot was added. The last two were major quality of life improvements for marksmanship, but damage was still too low.
- Patch 5.2: Steady Shot was buffed by 20%, Aimed Shot was buffed by 10% and its cast time reduced to 2.5 seconds (from 2.9), and Chimera Shot was buffed by 25%. The damage was still too low. On single target it could approach survival's numbers, but it required flawless play to do so and many hunters didn't feel like it was worth the effort.
- Patch 5.3: Blizzard buffed Bombardment to a 60% damage bonus (was 30%) to help marksmanship's poor AoE performance. It definitely helped, but the end result is an AoE that is still inferior to Serpent Spread and Beast Cleave for reasons I will get into later.
- Patch 5.4: Aimed Shot's damage was increased to 450% weapon damage (from 350%), and a couple of weeks after the patch dropped, Chimera Shot's damage was hotfixed with a 50% increase.
It turns out the recent Chimera Shot buff was enough to bring marksmanship's single target damage up to par. On fights such as Iron Juggernaut I was able to put out numbers which were virtually identical to beast mastery. It was a bit strange playing it after using survival and beast mastery for so long, as marksmanship has other things to worry about. If you aren't paying attention it's incredibly easy to lose the Steady Focus buff, and keeping it up full time is essential for marksmanship to put out competitive numbers.
What worked best for me to manage the Steady Focus mechanic was to create a WeakAura to let me know how much time was left on the buff with a big icon so I wouldn't miss it. I also created a big flashing graphic to annoy me if the buff happens to fall off. If you have WeakAuras 2 installed and want to try it out, you can find the import strings here and then adjust size and positioning to your liking.
The other dynamic which sets marksmanship apart is deciding when you should or shouldn't be hardcasting Aimed Shot. During the first 20% of a boss fight it makes sense to hardcast it as your focus dump because of Careful Aim giving you a guaranteed critical hit. The T16 4-piece bonus factors into this as well. With such a quick cast time, it makes it worthwhile to hardcast after every instant Aimed Shot.
You can even use Aimed Shot as a full time focus dump and actually do more damage than using Arcane Shot, but that's only on paper. When Aimed Shot costs 50 focus and Chimera costs 45 focus, you don't have a lot of wiggle room before you either spend too much time focus capped, or delay Chimera Shot to the point where it's a DPS loss. Throw in Glaive Toss or Barrage and it gets even more complicated. It's something worth trying to see if you prefer that kind of play style. I did not.
Marksmanship requires a different type of attention from the player. With beast mastery or survival, I just instinctively know where I am with my focus and cooldowns at all times. I don't need addons telling me what's going on. With marksmanship, the flow of gameplay can and will change throughout the fight.
Cleaving and AoE is the norm in Siege of Orgrimmar, and marksmanship has a much tougher time on these fights. Just so we don't get confused with terminology here, when I say "cleave" I mean when you're focusing on a single target but want to do extra damage to surrounding targets. When I say "AoE" I mean pure Multi-Shot spam.
Bombardment is marksmanship's passive to compete with Beast Cleave and Serpent Spread. In AoE situations, the 60% damage buff in addition to Wild Quiver results in some pretty decent numbers, especially when there is a lot of targets and you're using Thrill of the Hunt for effectively free Multi-Shots.
The real issue is that marksmanship hunters have no viable method of cleaving damage while minimally affecting their single target DPS. With Beast Cleave and Serpent Spread you can use Multi-Shot periodically while still focusing on the priority target, and either your pet or your your DoTs will do the cleaving for you. In order for marksmanship to pull off decent cleave damage you must tunnel vision and spam Multi-Shot constantly. This is fine in 5+ target situations, but with 2-4 targets the result is lackluster damage. There is some silver lining with Concussive Barrage. I'm sure you can think of several situations where snaring all your targets is beneficial.
I really think marksmanship needs a secondary effect on its Multi-Shots. Perhaps if Multi-Shots could apply Piercing Shots it would be enough, but I'd prefer a bleed on every hit so it doesn't need to be spammed.
Choosing talents isn't much different from the other specializations, but marksmanship is the only one with a required glyph (Glyph of Aimed Shot), which seems to go against Blizzard's glyph philosophy.
- Level 60 Talent: Choose what you want because Blizzard has managed to make this tier a true choice. Dire Beast is the standard go-to, and Fervor would probably work out very nicely if you want to use Aimed Shot as your focus dump. Thrill of the Hunt will definitely be helpful with all of marksmanship's high cost shots, and it will make Multi-Shot free to cast in conjunction with Bombardment.
- Level 75 Talent: A Murder of Crows is the highest single target damage on paper, but at 60 focus it doesn't play well with a 50 focus Aimed Shot and a 45 focus Chimera Shot. Blink Strikes is only slightly less damage on paper, but it's consistent damage and also helps with target switching.
- Level 90 Talent: Glaive Toss for single target and Barrage for multi-target are the standard choices. With a heroic T16 weapon, both Barrage and Powershot pull ahead of Glaive Toss due to their weapon damage scaling.
My hiatus from beast mastery and survival was interesting to say the least. I found myself enjoying it whenever I was focused on a single target. Unfortunately, I longed for the status quo whenever cleaving entered the equation. As beast mastery, I was accustomed to effortlessly killing several elites at a time on the Timeless Isle. Marksmanship could destroy the elites one at a time, but it ended up taking a lot longer without the strong cleave damage. It didn't help that I had to use Misdirection every 4 seconds.
On the bright side, at least we can play marksmanship without artificially crippling our damage output by 10%. Prior to 5.4, marksmanship wasn't even an option for us hunters who like to squeeze out every single bit of possible DPS.
Beast mastery and survival are simply more versatile -- they can do everything marksmanship does and more. Until we get a triple spec system, I'm not sure if many PvE focused hunters will make room for it in their dual spec arsenal. Perhaps marksmanship will find its niche in the next expansion.
Scattered Shots is dedicated to helping you learn everything it takes to be a hunter. From raiding tips and taming rare pets to learning the DPS value of skill, we've got you covered. If you're stuck in one of the nine support classes, why not move up to the big league and play a hunter?